‘Cobalt Blue’ by Sachin Kundalkar
There are so many literary gems in our regional languages that we miss either because we do not know the language or somehow we tend to look down on them. Now that I think of it, many of the books that I absolutely loved in the recent past have all been translations. This book was originally written in Marathi and translated beautifully into English by Jerry Pinto.
A typical middle class Marathi family , an empty room with a separate entrance that once was the abode of the grandparents, where the smell of amritanjan still lingers. In comes an unconventional paying guest, changing the lives of two siblings, the younger son and the daughter of the family.
The book is in two parts , first one a sort of conversation where the brother Tanay talks to the protagonist, taking us through their relationship and how it ended. The second part, as a story told by Anuja, his sister after she comes back from a six month long elopement with the same guy. What makes the story interesting is how each relationship builds, without either of them knowing the other part. One is left to wonder in between what sort of guy the painter is. He is introduced as a loner, with no close friends or relatives, living pretty much on his own.
Some contradictions are quite interesting and is reflective of how we, as a society is changing, while trying not to change too much. Anuja is portrayed as a non-conventional girl, who goes on treks and rock climbing, volunteers for a pro-environment organization and the like. Her family seems to have accepted this about her. But, in the true Indian middle class style, she is expected to stay away from the male paying guest. That she finds her avenues is another matter altogether.
More interesting is how two boys spending their time together is taken for granted. Tanay’s frequent visits and the long time that he spends in the guest’s room is never questioned, there is not an iota of doubt in his family’s minds. His angst at discovering that he is not inclined to the conventional manner of love, the casual relationships that he gets into and the lonely world that people of a different sexual orientation inhabits, is portrayed in a very matter of fact manner. I particularly loved the way the author has handled this subject in such a sensitive manner. The thoughts of both Tanay and Anuja brings out their characters so beautifully, while their common love stays an enigma to them as well as the readers.
I was curious about the author after having read through the book, so mature were the thoughts and treatment. It was a mild but pleasant shock to discover that he started writing this book when he was 20 and completed it at 22. Wisdom need not be correlated to age, I realize.
A big thanks to Hrishikesh who gifted this to me. But for him, I might not have even heard about it
Verdict : A sensitive subject handled very subtly. This one is for you if you like simple , but elegant prose, well sketched characters and multi shaded relationships